Sunday, January 1, 2012

The Hottest Gardening Trend; e-Gardening.

The foliage of the common horse chestnut
resemble stubby yellow fingers with each leaf measuring
over 12" across

Is there such a word as e-gardening? If not there should be.

Within a 30’ drive I have at least 10 excellent retail and wholesale nurseries and at least as many smaller, specialty treasures. Within 2 hours, at least double that number. Yet for die hard gardeners like me that simply isn’t enough. Thankfully (or not as my husband commented) we now have ‘internet garden’ or e-gardening.

With all the gardening books, magazines, online articles and television shows our gardening world has expanded exponentially as we discover and fall in love with all manner of ‘must  have’ plants. And then there’s just pure sentiment, buying plants because they remind us of special places and people. The two trees I’m showcasing here fall firmly into the latter.

Conkers are the seeds (often
 referred to as nuts) of the
common horse chestnut tree.
Photo credit; Wikipedia 
The things you do for your children….or grandchildren….or great grandchildren.  One of our fall highlights as a young family was to walk in the parks looking for horse chestnuts – or conkers as they are called in my native England. In days gone by these were pickled in vinegar before being threaded onto a stout string to use in a school yard game. For us though it was all about the fun of the hunt, discovering the smooth brown nuts wrapped in cloaks of pale velvet hidden within the spiky seed coat. We’d come home with pocketful’s of these shiny nuts (and discover them later in the washing machine…).

The huge flowers can be seen from a
considerable distance.
Photo credit;
As soon as we moved to this 5 acre property our two ‘children’ – now 23 and 19 insisted that we plant a horse chestnut tree (Aesculus hippocastanum). Fabulous idea I thought – until I tried to find one. Whereas they can be seen in a few parks in Seattle they are not a common sight. These are HUGE trees unsuitable for the typical suburban garden. Yet if you have the room they display magnificent large spires of white flowers in spring, offer summer shade under their monster leaves and have fabulous yellow fall color plus CONKERS! Locally I found the sterile varieties ‘Baumannii' and the ‘Briotii’ red horsechestnut (Aesculus x carnea ‘Briotii’), but what’s the point if they don’t have conkers?  I just wanted the plain old common horsechestnut and it was nowhere to be found until I started my internet search. 

Forestfarm Nursery in southern Oregon came to my rescue and I hastily placed my order. I am now the proud owner of - an 18” twig. Hmmm. Well it was the only size I could find and if that’s what it takes so be it. I’m not sure how old either of us will be before it bears fruit, but we intend to stay in the house for the rest of our lives and I know our children want to be able to keep the property when we are long gone, so this humble horsechestnut tree will be here for our children and grandchildren to make their own memories.

Forestfarm Nursery specializes in the more unusual plants and trees so they were my answer once again as I hunted for an oak tree. Not just any oak tree – an English oak tree (Quercus robur). Now oak trees in general are not that hard to find with several species being popular Seattle street trees, especially the newer more columnar varieties such as ‘Crimson spire’ oak (Quercus robur ‘Crimson spire’) and they are all lovely. They are best known - by children and squirrels alike, for the shiny acorns sitting daintily in knobby cups. The distinctively lobed leaves transition from deep green through a colorful array of rich fall shades before turning brown in fall. These crisp leaves stay on the tree through most of the winter, rustling softly in the winter winds.

Yet again my heart ruled my head, and yet again it is my children’s fault, as in years gone by we also filled our pockets with acorns on those fall walks.

The acorns of the  English oak are more elongated
than some species
Photo credit;
The English oak tree is the majestic, ‘king of the woods’ and a popular choice for English parklands as well harboring the legendary outlaw Robin Hood and his Merry Men in ancient Sherwood Forest.  It is not unusual to find specimens 60’ tall and wide, and several hundred years old. It may be a while before my 5’ stick can be called the king of the woods but at least I have a knave thanks to the internet.

So as seed and plant catalogs begin to arrive in the mail, curl up in your favorite armchair and start dreaming. What have you always wanted to grow but can’t find easily? It doesn’t have to be a huge tree. What annual, now out of favor did you always see in your grandma’s garden? Can you buy the seeds to start on your windowsill? Or do you have memories of a particularly fragrant vine that you’ve never seen at your local garden center? If it is hardy enough for your area why not see if you can buy it online?

January is the time when we often reflect on the past and make plans for the future. To me gardens are all about memories; recapturing precious moments or recalling special friends. And sometimes it is simply about leaving a legacy for our children. Surely that is worth the hunt.


  1. Little did you know when you went on those family outings what you were getting yourself in for... It's amazing what a big impact they have on us our whole lives. I'm loving the irony, though, of your having to resort to the internet to find the "normal" variety of horse chestnut! I've used the internet for bulbs and seeds but have had less luck with plants, I think because our climate is so harsh. Even with hardening off, plants grown in gentler places don't do as well as the ones that are mistreated from the very beginning.

    I hope your English oak graduates to knighthood soon! (Soon by oak standards, of course.)

  2. You're so right. Who would have imagined over 20 years ago that we would even be living in the USA let alone trying to find an English oak tree!

    Sounds like you need to find online growers in your area for the best success.

  3. The internet is a godsend for finding out information about plants and the plants themselves for sale. You are much more intentional in your gardening, which is a good thing. I have a huge lifelist of plants I want so I don't order them but wait to run across them in my travels both local and regional. I find and plant a few each year, usually in a much bigger size than mail order companies provide, which is enough for me. The pink-flowered chestnut is on the list---I just need to find a space for it because I have a local source.

  4. Full of memories and lovely plants, your garden must be very special! Plants often provide a link between the generations. Perhaps your grandchildren's children will one day gather acorns and horse chestnuts as they are told the story of how Grandma planted the trees when they were only saplings!

  5. Yeah, there ought to be a term like e-gardening :)

  6. Carolyn - I love your term 'life list'. It gives me a breathing space to find them all as well as permission to never stop buying plants!

    Deb - my garden will hopefully be special one day but it may take until we have great grandchildren for us to complete the project list!! Certainly we already have precious memories - and photographs already though.

    Patio Design Katy - maybe I've created a new phrase!! Shame I can't claim royalties :)

  7. When I lived in upstate NY near the Canadian border I had a MASSIVE horse chestnut in my back yard but I never pulled them apart to look for chestnuts. I just tried not to step on them in bare feet!

  8. Sounds fabulous! I wonder how old the tree was.

  9. Hi Karen, Happy new Year! I do find that the internet is a great resource for plant information. Nurseries here in Canada however seem to be slow to embrace new technology. My favourite local nursery has a horrible website. They have the provinces largest selection of plants, trees and shrubs. Just don't try to find something specific online. It is pure frustration!

  10. That must be so frustrating Jennifer and it is probably cost prohibitive ordering from the USA. I did order lots of grass plugs from B.C. (Bluestem)but wouldn't make a habit of it!


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